Legal Aid Bill Faces Possible Further Defeat On Final Day In The Lords

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LEGAL AID BILL KEN CLARKE
Ken Clarke's Legal Aid Bill Has Been Amended Eight Times By The Lords | PA

Ken Clarke's Legal Aid Bill faces a further possible defeat in the Lords on Wednesday afternoon, as peers conclude their deliberation of the legislation.

The Bill has already seen eight significant amendments by peers, and Labour are hoping that this afternoon they can make that nine.

Most eyes at Westminster will probably be on the Commons, where Labour will mount a forlorn attempt to delay the Health and Social Care Bill, which is back before MPs after weeks of deliberation in the House of Lords.

Andy Burnham has secured a last-ditch emergency debate on whether the NHS Risk Register - the dossier on the likely impact of Andrew Lansley's far-reaching reforms will have on the health service.

The government has refused to publish the document, despite rulings by both the Information Commissioner and a subsequent appeals tribunal which said that it should.

But back in the Lords Labour think they might be able to land another blow on the government over Legal Aid reforms.

An amendment tabled by Labour peer Baroness Corston would create a Women’s Criminal Justice Policy Unit, to implement a strategy for women offenders and for women at risk of offending.

Of all the amendments being tabled on Wednesday, Labour sources feel this one has the most chance of attracting cross-bench support.

Whatever the outcome of today's business in the Lords it seems certain that the Legal Aid Bill will end up in parliamentary ping-pong, where the Commons and the Lords tussle for control of the legislation.

It's in sharp contrast to the Health and Social Care Bill, which was amended several times with the tacit approval of ministers. The NHS reforms seem likely to be passed into law by Easter.

The Legal Aid Bill's prospects look a lot more fraught, partly because many Tory peers - including a handful of influential former ministers in the Major and Thatcher governments, have been among the rebels in the eight defeats so far.

The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke believes that the legal aid bill has grown too large, as the Ministry of Justice grapples with a budget cut of more than 20% over the lifetime of this Parliament. He insists his reforms are designed to end a "compensation culture" in England and Wales.

Many of the amendments made to the Bill so far address concerns that Ken Clarke's reforms will adversely affect women. One defeat was over access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence, overturning the government's wish to restrict the time limit for making a claim to twelve months.

Other defeats surrounded peers' objections to coalition plans which would stop people appealing against decisions to strip them of welfare benefits to claim legal aid.

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